The cries of the gulls seemed to sear through his skull, each a painful accusation. He looked dully out at the sea from the tower, toward the setting sun, and wondered what Elwing Dior's daughter had thought in her last moments standing in this very place. She's gone, he thought hollowly, it's gone.
Maedhros wondered when he had become so numb to everything around him. His mouth tasted of ash and he could still smell the smoke of the burning Havens, but it had been a long time since he felt anything like revulsion, or even satisfaction.
He turned his back on the western horizon and descended the stairs. Blood spattered the walls near the bottom from the two guards, dead in moments in the mad rush to the top of the tower. He had taken the stairs two at a time, and it had taken only seconds to scale them.
She was already gone when he burst into the room at the top, sword drawn. The open window looked west and when he looked out of it and down, the waves crashed white against the rocks at its base.
He kicked the limp bodies on the stairs out of his way and stepped back out. The rest of the buildings were burning, not far away, and he could see elves running back and forth. It no longer seemed terribly important which were his and which were not.
He started back anyway, though. Their work here was done.
The fighting was mostly over, and Maglor was nowhere to be seen. Sword still naked, point toward the ground, he wandered toward the beach. Some of the boats had escaped and were only dots on the sea, and he watched them without interest.
It took him some time to realize what he was seeing, but finally his eyes shifted focus and his mouth formed the word faintly. No.
His brother's hair seemed more alive than his brother. He searched for some sign of breath and life, and found nothing. Maedhros sank to his knees in the damp sand and stared at Ambarussa's face.
Sand clung to his cold brow, and he brushed it off with care. His sword was near to hand, but abandoned, Amrod's right hand curled instead around the shaft of the tawny-fletched arrow sunk deep in his chest.
At least he hadn't died in pain, Maedhros thought numbly, and then the sob choked free from behind his teeth and he let his body fold, pressing his forehead against his littlest brother's cold, unmoving shoulder and allowing himself to weep, great wracking sobs that left him empty and exhausted.
"Peace, brother," he managed to say at last, and reached out to close his staring eyes. And this is our gift, he thought, bitterly. Always, a step behind. Always, an arm's length away. This should not have been what was meant for us. We were more than this.
"Maitimo?" He recognized Maglor's voice, but did not lift his head. "Maitimo – oh Eru. No."
He could hear his brother step forward and touch his shoulder, hand resting lightly there for a moment. Maglor seemed insubstantial sometimes, like he might dissipate if one tried to touch him.
"She's gone," he said. "Leapt from the tower…" Maedhros unbent his back and straightened slightly, leaving one hand resting on a cheek that no longer felt like skin but marble.
Maglor laughed, the sound short and brutal and bitter. "Of course. Could it be any other way?"
Did we die for some purpose? He thought of asking, and realized only several moments after that he had thought 'we' instead of 'he.' "There's something I must show you," Maglor said, breaking the silence after a few moments. "Something you must…see."
"Show me, then," Maedhros said wearily, and stood with the pain of an old man. Maglor led him to a house, not so far distant, and paused at the doorway, gesturing inside. Maedhros looked in, unable to comprehend.
Two boys sat shivering in the corner, arms around each other. One looked up as Maedhros stood there, his gaze piercing and defiant. Maedhros thought of his mad search for the boys in Doriath. It felt like such a long time ago. What had he thought then, that somehow in two lives he could make up for the thousands of others lost? That perhaps, with time, they could grow to replace the brothers that had perished among the trees? "They're Elwing's sons," Maglor said, softly. "I could not…"
"What do you want of me?" Maedhros asked, cutting off his brother's voice. He could think only of the limp body on the beach, still untended. "What do you want me to do, Cano?"
"Raise them," Maglor said, voice suddenly loud, turning on him. "Help me raise them. Take them out of this and let us at least make something out of this ruin! If nothing else, please let me offer something other than death that may last in this world."
Maedhros felt all his energy drain away quickly, and turned his face away. He didn't care. That thought was almost liberating; if he didn't care, what need did he have of pain? "Do what you like," he said at last, dully, "I care not."
He turned and walked away, and if for a moment he thought his younger brother – only brother – might follow him, he did not. The seagulls continued to squawk and wheel, and he wondered suddenly – longingly – if all lives ended in silence.